The following is a detailed timeline we are compiling of the movements of the life of the Victorian writer Charles Dickens during each year of his life, as we come across them in letters, newspaper articles and other research. We have also included some key contemporary events that occurred in society and major news events from across the world at the time.
January, 10 (Friday). A new national postal service with a universal rate, the penny post, begins. The first stamps go on sale a few months later.
January, 14 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens attends an inquest at Marylebone workhouse into the death of the infant child of a young maid, Eliza Burgess. He serves on the jury.
February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 28th birthday.
February, 29 (Saturday). Charles Dickens, along with friends John Forster and Daniel Maclise, travel to Bath by coach, departing London at 9.30am and arriving in the evening just before 8pm, after a lunch stop at 2pm. The party stay over at the York House hotel.
March, 2 (Monday). In Bath.
March, 3 (Tuesday). In Bath.
March, 4 (Wednesday). Evening. Charles Dickens travels from Bath on an overnight coach to London, returning to the family home the following morning.
March, 5 (Thursday). The House of Commons debates the issue of abolishing capital punishment, but rejects, by 161 votes to 90, a motion to introduce a bill for this purpose.
March, 6 (Friday). A public meeting is held at the London Tavern for the establishment of the Sanatorium, a private medical institution. Charles Dickens would later become a supporter of the project.
March, 30. Death of Beau Brummell, English-French fashion designer (born in 1778). An iconic figure in Regency England and for many years the arbiter of men’s fashion, Brummell was a close friend of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but fled to France after getting into debt. He died penniless and insane at Le Bon Sauveur Asylum on the outskirts of Caen in northwestern France.
March, 30. An extension to the Great Western Railway opens, the train line now running from Paddington in London to Reading in Berkshire.
April, 3. Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine leave London, travelling to Birmingham.
May, 1 (Friday). The Penny Black postage stamp is first issued, although it was not valid for use for another five days (see 6 May).
May, 5 (Tuesday). Aristocrat and former Member of Parliament, Lord William Russell is murdered at his house in Norfolk Street (now Dunraven Street), London. His valet, François Benjamin Courvoisier, was hanged for the crime (see also 8 May, 18 June, 19 June, 6 July).
May, 6 (Wednesday). The Penny Black postage stamp officially comes into use. Although first issued on 1 May the stamp, featuring a profile of Queen Victoria, was not valid for use until 6 May. The Penny Black was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used by a public postal system.
May, 7 (Thursday). In the United States, a deadly tornado strikes Natchez in Mississippi killing over 300 people. It remains one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history.
May, 8 (Friday). Swiss-born valet François Benjamin Courvoisier is arrested for the murder of Lord William Russell three days earlier at his house in London’s Mayfair district (see also May 5, June 18, June 19, July 6).
May, 15 (Friday). Cuerdale Hoard discovery. A large hoard of Viking silver coins and artefacts is discovered by workmen beside the River Ribble near Cuerdale Hall, east of Preston, Lancashire. One of the largest such hoards ever found it comprised around 8,600 items.
May, 20 (Wednesday). Around 9pm, fire breaks out in the south-west tower of York Minster, spreading to the nave. The blaze is not brought under control until the following morning, causing considerable damage to the building.
May, 22. Penal transportation of British convicts to the colony of New South Wales (Australia) is abolished. Transportation to other parts of the Australasian continent, including Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and Norfolk Island continue until the 1850’s.
May, 26. Death of Sidney Smith (born in 1764). English admiral and politician William Sidney Smith died in Paris, aged 75. Smith served in both the American and French revolutionary wars. In later life he was involved in the anti-slavery cause.
June, 1 (Monday). The Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilization of Africa hold a large meeting at Exeter Hall calling for a missionary expedition to western Africa. Over 4,000 people attend including Prince Albert. The subsequent Niger expedition of 1841 failed and was satirized by Charles Dickens with the character of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House mounting a similar project.
June, 10 (Wednesday). Edward Oxford attempts to assassinate newlyweds Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, as they take an evening carriage ride from Buckingham Palace. He was immediately arrested and after being found insane at a trial, sent to Bethlem Lunatic Asylum.
June, 12 (Friday). West of London and Westminster Cemetery is consecrated by Charles James Blomfield, the Bishop of London.
June, 18 (Thursday). Trial begins at the Central Criminal Court (Newgate) of François Benjamin Courvoisier for the murder of Lord William Russell. The case attracts much public interest and the court is crowded, many of the audience from the nobility. Courvoisier pleads not guilty (see also May 5, May 8, June 19, July 6).
June, 19 (Friday). Second day of the trial at the Central Criminal Court (Newgate) of François Benjamin Courvoisier for the murder of Lord William Russell. Courvoisier changes his confession and pleads guilty to the murder. A jury returns a guilty verdict and Courvoisier is sentenced to death (see also May 5, May 8, June 18, July 6).
June, 27 (Saturday). The first part (of 5) of Noctes Pickwickianae, an unauthorised adaptation of The Pickwick Papers is published in the temperance journal The Teetotaller. It was created by the journalist, and prolific Dickens plagiarist, G.W.M. (George William Macarthur) Reynolds.
July, 4 (Saturday). The second part (of 5) of Noctes Pickwickianae, an unauthorised adaptation of The Pickwick Papers is published in the temperance journal The Teetotaller. It was created by the journalist, and prolific Dickens plagiarist, G.W.M. (George William Macarthur) Reynolds.
July, 6 (Monday). Charles Dickens, along with friend William Makepeace Thackeray, attend the public hanging of François Benjamin Courvoisier outside Newgate Prison (see also May 5, May 8, June 18, June 19). A crowd of around 40,000 witnesses the execution. Thackeray writes about his experience of the event in his essay ‘On going to see a man hanged‘.
July, 11 (Saturday). The third part (of 5) of Noctes Pickwickianae, an unauthorised adaptation of The Pickwick Papers is published in the temperance journal The Teetotaller. It was created by the journalist, and prolific Dickens plagiarist, G.W.M. (George William Macarthur) Reynolds.
July, 15 (Wednesday). The Preston and Wyre Railway opens a single-track passenger and freight rail line between Preston and Fleetwood. Public services commenced the following day.
July, 25 (Saturday). The fourth part (of 5) of Noctes Pickwickianae, an unauthorised adaptation of The Pickwick Papers is published in the temperance journal The Teetotaller. It was created by the journalist, and prolific Dickens plagiarist, G.W.M. (George William Macarthur) Reynolds.
July, 27 (Monday). Charles Dickens arrives at Alphington in Devon to visit his parents.
August, 4 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens returns to London from visiting his parents in Devon.
August, 7 (Friday). The Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act comes into force, making it illegal to make someone under the age of 21 to climb up or into a chimney and a new apprentice in the profession must be at least 16.
August, 8 (Saturday). The fifth part (of 5) of Noctes Pickwickianae, an unauthorised adaptation of The Pickwick Papers is published in the temperance journal The Teetotaller. It was created by the journalist, and prolific Dickens plagiarist, G.W.M. (George William Macarthur) Reynolds.
September. Charles Dickens and his family spend the month at the Kent town of Broadstairs.
September, 15. Northern and Eastern Railway opens, initially a wide-gauge track between Stratford in east London and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire.
October, 11 (Sunday). Charles Dickens returns to London from Broadstairs.
November, 9 (Monday). Edward Stirling’s production of Old Curiosity Shop opens at the Adelphi Theatre .
November, 21. Nine months after her marriage, Queen Victoria gives birth to her first child, a daughter also called Victoria.
December, 2 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens attends a banquet given by the Southwark Literacy and Scientific Institution at the Bridge House Hotel (London) to celebrate the laying of a foundation stone for a new building. Gives a short speech.
SOUTHWARK LITERARY SOCIETY. The anniversary dinner, in celebtation of laying the foundation stone of this institution, took place onWednesday at the Bridge House Hotel, London-bridge. Mr. KEMBLE, M.P., presided, supported by Alderman Humphery and Mr. B. Wood, the members for the borough, Mr. Charles Dickens, Professor Vaughan, Dr. S. Smith, &c. About 100 sat down to dinner, among whom were a number of elegantly dressed women.The Morning Herald. Saturday, 5 December 1840.
December, 15. Charles Dickens receives correspondence from Dr. Southwood Smith, including a pamphlet about Smith’s Sanatorium project. Dickens replies the same day, writing from his Devonshire Terrace home, praising Smith for his work.
Missing a date? if you know of any movements not covered here we would welcome letting us know, along with a reference to any source material so we can try to fill in the gaps.